Mariners hitting coach spent offseason in search of more runs

PEORIA, Ariz. — In the name of building better offense, Alan Cockrell spent one day at home after the Seattle Mariners’ final game last season and hit the road one day later.

“My kids were like, ‘You’re leaving already?’” said Cockrell, the Mariners’ hitting coach.

Already.

The season may have ended last October, but the Mariners’ quest for more run production was just beginning. Cockrell isn’t sure how many days he spent on the road or the number of miles he traveled, but he was a frequent flier.

From his home to Colorado Springs, he made two trips to the Mariners’ training facility in Peoria to work with players — including two days after the regular season to help outfielder Michael Saunders, then later to work with catcher Adam Moore.

He came back to Peoria to help install a new video program, and also made trips to the Los Angeles area to work with shortstop Jack Wilson and to attend a seminar with other major league hitting instructors.

Cockrell had an open line to Mariners travel director Ron Spellecy, who arranged his trips.

“I’d call Spelly and all he’d say was, ‘Let me guess, L.A.?” Cockrell said.

The best was the work with Wilson, whose backyard north of Los Angeles is a sports mecca with a full turf infield, basketball court, tennis court, covered hitting cage, swimming pool and a putting green. Cockrell spent three days there.

“Plus, it’s all lit so if he wanted to go out there at 9 o’clock at night and take ground balls, he could,” he said. “I told Jack that whether he needed the work or not, that’s going to be an annual trip for me. Simi Valley was a little bit nicer than Colorado Springs in January.”

Of course, nothing would be nicer than a Mariners offense that scores five runs per game this year. They averaged four runs last year and won 85 games, and even improvements to the pitching and defense haven’t eased concern about run production in 2010.

Cockrell isn’t bashful to say how much he likes this offense despite the lack of home run potential.

“I think you can say, ‘Yeah, this will be a better offensive team,’” he said. “I will say, ‘Yeah.’ The additions are top-notch.”

He likes the patience at the plate and speed on the bases that Chone Figgins has brought, believing Ichiro Suzuki and Figgins at the top of the lineup will create problems for opposing defenses.

Milton Bradley adds a rare mix of aggressiveness and patience that Cockrell is eager to see in this lineup. He got to know it well when he was the Rockies’ hitting coach and Bradley played for the Padres in 2007.

“They had two guys in that lineup who we didn’t want up at the plate with the game on the line, him and Adrian (Gonzalez),” Cockrell said. “He’s a disciplined hitter and he’s an attacking hitter. That’s a great combination but it’s a rare combination. His on-base percentage for his career is up there. He’s willing to take a walk.”

The Mariners finished last in the American League with a .314 on-base percentage. The Angels were the best at .350.

“If we can improve that area this year, we’re going to score more runs,” Cockrell said. “You’ve got Ichi doing what Ichi does at the top of the order, you’ve got Figgy who’s a disciplined on-base-percentage guy, you’ve got Milton who’s a combination of both, who can do some damage and is a high on-base guy. And then whoever hits 4-5-6 for us, hopefully there will be in some RBI opportunities.”

Cockrell believes a traditionally low on-base percentage player like Jose Lopez could benefit with these hitters around him.

“The beautiful thing about this is that we’re not taking away from the attack mentality, it’s the attack mentality under control,” he said. “Look at the Yankees and Boston in the years when they were scoring a lot of runs, that’s basically what they do. They’re not taking pitches just to get a guy’s pitch count up, they’re up there to do damage. If they don’t throw the ball in an area where they want to hit it, they’re willing to skip that pitch and live to see another pitch.

“It’s an attacking mindset but we’re going to get them to throw the ball in an area where we can do something with it.”

Cockrell also is satisfied with the pop in the middle of the Mariners’ order, even though there’s not a certain 30-homer hitter in the bunch.

“How do you define pop? With Ichiro and Milton and Figgy on first base and when one of our middle-of-the-order guys splits a gap and drives him in, I define that as power,” Cockrell said. “Power for me is not just the ball going over the fence. But when you backspin a ball in the outfield to split that gap and score a run from first, that’s power. It doesn’t have to leave the ballpark. We have a chance to keep putting pressure on guys.”

It’s a style that manager Don Wakamatsu believes strongly in, and it worked well during the Mariners’ playoff seasons at Safeco Field in 2000 and 2001. The ballpark, with its big outfield gaps and heavy air that knocks down fly balls, is better suited to the game that Cockrell believes the 2010 Mariners are built to play.

“What these guys all bring to the table is what I think plays best for our ballclub,” Cockrell said. “They’re multi-dimensional players. Offensively they all have their strengths, all have an identity offensively and they play both sides of the ball. When they’re on base, they apply pressure.

“That fits best for our ballpark, it really does. It’s a ballpark that’s not conducive to a whole lot of balls leaving and if we can keep guys on the bases and keep putting pressure on the basepaths, that’s good for us.”

Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog

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